Loneliness is one of the silent dangers that affect our society and particularly members of society who are vulnerable in some shape or form. In fact, we are currently facing an epidemic of gay loneliness that few people acknowledge. LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness, and this problem is becoming increasingly more serious.
First of all, we need to understand what loneliness really means and why it is dangerous for our mental health and overall wellbeing. Secondly, we are going to look at what factors in the modern world are making LGBT people lonelier and why they are especially vulnerable to these factors. Understanding how serious this phenomenon is is the first step toward healing and improving.
Is loneliness really that bad?
Loneliness is an experience, therefore, it is strongly linked to the way we perceive things and people around us. Some people can be isolated, but don’t feel bad about it because it is a personal choice, while others feel strong negative emotions as a direct result of not having the interactions and relationships they desire. Loneliness is something we are experiencing.
Loneliness is not the same as solitude. Solitude is a choice and those who make this choice feel content and at peace. Loneliness, on the other hand, is never a choice. It is perceived as a negative state that the person has no control over. When we experience losses, separations, a lack of social interactions, negative thoughts and emotions seem to take over us.
Loneliness becomes a serious negative phenomenon when it is chronic. All of us experience loneliness at some point in time, but when it becomes a long-term phenomenon in someone’s life, it starts to be dangerous for the mental health and development of that person. At this point, loneliness has turned into a vicious cycle, with no apparent way out.
Unlike in past decades, when loneliness was only analyzed from a cultural point of view and, therefore, not taken very seriously on an individual level, today, it is also studied on a scientific level. Neuroscientists have proven that chronic loneliness affects the immune system and the cardiovascular system because it influences our stress hormones.
On the other hand, mental health specialists and sociologists have shown the direct connection between long-term isolation and anxiety, substance abuse, risky behaviors in general, and even suicide. People who suffer from loneliness can be affected on the physical level, on the social level, or both.
Social interactions are so important to us because, in the early history of mankind, our survival literally depended on them. If one thing is certain about humans, that is that we are social animals, and our social connection helped us survive for most of our history. Scientists have shown that the lack of social relationships actually creates an alert state in our bodies, which further impacts our main functions and systems.
Loneliness first impacts our physical health. Then, it makes us more vulnerable to stress and negative habits such as substance abuse and risky behaviors. Also, lonely people tend to withdraw even more from society, thus becoming even more isolated. Loneliness then becomes a vicious cycle.
Our modern society is making us lonelier
According to psychologists, our modern lifestyle is far from adequate for people as social animals, because it tends to make us even more isolated and individualistic. More and more people are living by themselves, in small spaces. More and more people are working from home or are working very long hours.
While cities are becoming more crowded, people are actually becoming lonelier. The population is aging, and divorce rates are higher than ever. This leads to more people living by themselves, away from family and childhood friends. The increased mobility in our society makes it more difficult to cultivate long-term relations and to create roots.
Communities are also eroded by our modern society. A lot of traditional institutions that were at the heart of certain communities are now gone. It’s much more difficult today to feel that you belong to a specific group and to have authentic and meaningful communication with people from your community.
Social media is one of the important factors that make people lonelier. Unfortunately, instead of helping them create meaningful relationships, it encourages constant competition and a false perception of self-identity. It is especially dangerous for young people who are vulnerable to cyberbullying and destructive behaviors.
The modern work environment is another important factor. Burnout is one of the most harmful modern phenomena, which affects a lot of people, and it is linked with loneliness in many ways. It makes people distance themselves from family and friends, which makes them more isolated.
Another modern social trend is the increased geographical distance, which leads to social distance. People have never lived further away from their families, friends, or children. Older people are particularly vulnerable, and a lot of them live alone, without any family close by. But geographical distance affects young couples as well if their job forces them to live apart.
Loneliness and LGBT people
It would seem that in today’s society, after centuries of discrimination and harassment, LGBT people should feel more connected than ever. However, that is not the case. In fact, loneliness affects people in the gay community more than other members of modern society. Official discrimination may be gone, but there are other subtle factors that push LGBT people to loneliness.
Although LGBT people have felt isolated throughout history, due to social exclusion based on their sexual orientation, they seem to be feeling even more lonely today, when they enjoy more freedom and rights. Although significant legislative and social changes have had a positive impact on the LGBT community, such as legal marriage for same-sex people, problems still exist.
Social isolation is still the main factor that causes increased loneliness among gay people. This means that a lot of them still suffer from a lack of social support. A lot of young LGBT people don’t have any type of contact with the LGBT community, while on the other hand, they may be trying to conceal their identity in order to be ‘accepted’ by society at large.
Therefore, young LGBT people may end up feeling like they don’t belong anywhere, which leads to severe isolation, with serious consequences. Plus, they may also become the victims of emotional isolation, because they can’t trust their family or their social network, they can’t share their feelings, and they feel like there’s nobody there for them.
On the other hand, older LGBT people are also strongly impacted by loneliness. In our society, older people, in general, suffer from isolation and loneliness, but LGBT people are impacted even more, because of the lack of traditional support mechanisms. A lot of them don’t have a spouse, children, or any religious type of community, and therefore they are alone as they age.
They also have limited access to health and social benefits and networks, compared to other members of society. There’s also a financial component that needs to be considered since LGBT people are still discriminated against when it comes to their earnings. Due to all these factors, it’s difficult for some of them to develop significant interactions later in life.
Also, a lot of LGBT people come out in the second half of their life, when isolation is a real threat. They don’t have the support of an LGBT community, they are most likely isolated from their family, and it’s also difficult to form new friendships at that age. Plus, our society is still far from being truly inclusive.
As soon as they acknowledge their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBT people already begin to perceive themselves as ‘different’ and therefore feel isolated from other people. And, unfortunately, there are still not enough social networks, institutions, or professionals that can help LGBT people feel integrated into the community.
Social isolation is predominant, especially at a local level and in rural areas. Here, it can be much more difficult to find a partner, to feel acknowledged, and to be heard. This is where LGBT people have to face the harsh reality that our society is still not inclusive and that access to various services is still not equal for all members of society.
Loneliness has a profound negative impact on the LGBT community. A lot of its members are experiencing health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, and an increased suicide risk. Social isolation, together with a lack of financial stability and/or access to health and social services, leads to a lower quality of life, especially for LGBT youth and elders.
There are still many changes that need to be made in our society in order to combat isolation and promote inclusion. On an individual level, the first step is to understand that we are never truly separate because we are all sharing a human experience. Sometimes we just have to face our fears, accept our vulnerability, and be willing to ask for support.